5 ‘must-haves’ in a bankruptcy lawyer

1
ridvan_celik/E+/Getty Images

At Bankrate we strive to help you make smarter financial decisions. While we adhere to strict , this post may contain references to products from our partners. Here’s an explanation for

If you are considering filing for bankruptcy, your best bet for a successful outcome is to choose a good bankruptcy lawyer. Although it is possible to file for bankruptcy on your own without hiring an attorney, it is not advisable to do so.

The judicial system advises, “Filing personal bankruptcy under Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 takes careful preparation and understanding of legal issues. Misunderstandings of the law or making mistakes in the process can affect your rights. Court employees and bankruptcy judges are prohibited by law from offering legal advice.”

Ways a bankruptcy attorney can aid your case

Some ways that a bankruptcy attorney could prove worthy of their hiring include:

  • Helping you decide whether to go ahead with a bankruptcy filing in the first place.
  • Advising you on what sort of bankruptcy to opt for (the two main types are Chapter 7 and Chapter 13).
  • Counseling you about what property you might be able to hold on to.
  • Provide input on the tax consequences you will face.
  • Advising you about whether you should continue making payments to creditors.

Here are some key things to keep in mind as you shop around for a bankruptcy attorney to represent you.

1. Look for a specialist

Lawyers practice in multiple areas and your best bet would be to go with someone who expressly specializes in bankruptcy law. Attorneys who dabble in a little of everything are likely not aware of the granular aspects of bankruptcy law or up to speed with the latest legal developments in this area of practice.

Membership in associations such as the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys would be a good sign.

2. Choose an attorney with adequate experience

Ask about an attorney’s level of experience. It’s not necessarily the case that someone with more years of experience is always better equipped than someone with fewer years of experience. What matters is the number of bankruptcy cases they have successfully handled.

The National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA) advises, “There are some attorneys who have practiced bankruptcy law for many years, but have never really mastered the subject. There are other attorneys who have pursued a general practice, filing a case now and then. If they have been practicing for 25 years without much in-depth experience in bankruptcy, that does not translate to the expertise you need.”

3. Focus on bankruptcy attorneys with local expertise

Besides being familiar with bankruptcy laws, the attorney should be familiar with the local laws of the court where your bankruptcy case will be filed. Bankruptcy procedures tend to vary from locality to locality. That’s why you should look for a bankruptcy attorney who has practiced in your filing locality. They can use their knowledge of the local court procedures and personnel to your benefit.

4. Avoid bankruptcy mills

There are so-called “bankruptcy mills” that handle large numbers of cases without focusing on the specifics of each client’s case. Avoid attorneys with such an assembly line approach.

There are also “petition preparers” who are not qualified attorneys and will just fill out the bankruptcy paperwork for you. They cannot offer legal advice or shepherd you through the bankruptcy process. Be wary of hiring them, too. 

5. It comes down to your comfort level

At the end of the day, you should go with a bankruptcy attorney that you feel comfortable with. Look for someone who will listen to you and get the specifics relating to your case to best understand your situation and represent you.

Don’t make a decision based solely on price. Paying a good lawyer their going rate could save you money if they successfully represent you. Someone charging a low rate could be cutting corners, which could lead to a bad outcome on your bankruptcy case.

Ask around for referrals and do your own online research as well. The NACBA could also serve as a resource. Hopefully, this will help you find a bankruptcy attorney who will meet your needs and lead to a successful outcome for your case.